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Simple Fresh Southern
Knockout Dishes with
Downhome Flavor
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A New Ambrosia

photo - Lee Bros. New Ambrosia Ambrosia is the name of a cold, sweet, chunky salad found in most southern cafeterias. We've reinvented it from top to bottom.

The original ambrosia calls for canned tangerine segments, canned pineapple chunks, mini-marshmallows, shredded coconut, and mayonnaise. It is bracingly sweet, but we often find it served, bizarrely enough, as a side dish with the main course, which seems out of whack - a salad created for someone who'd rather eat dessert first. But the idea of "a food for the gods" - a cool, creamy salad that isn't coleslaw - appeals greatly to us, so we fiddled with the elements and came up with something new.

Here we substitute fresh grapefruit and orange for the canned tangerines and crisp cucumber and celery for the pineapple. Chopped avocado provides the soft creaminess of the marshmallows in the original. There is no mayo here, but instead a brisk dressing of buttermilk, lime juice, tarragon, and garlic, with the gentle sweetness of shredded coconut (a direct carryover from the original). It's a salad with beautiful contrasting textures, pretty colors, and bright flavors. This ambrosia is as crunchy and cool as coleslaw but with herbal notes instead of vinegary ones. Like coleslaw, it's brilliant paired with anything fried or spicy. Sometimes we serve a scoop of New Ambrosia over a small bed of arugula as the salad course in a larger meal.

  For 4 people
Time: 25 minutes

For the salad:

  • 1 large grapefruit, supremed
  • 1 large navel orange, supremed
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery (about 2 stalks)
  • 1 1/4 cups finely diced Haas avocado (about 1 avocado)
  • 1 1/2 cups seeded and chopped cucumber (about 1 large cucumber)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
  • 1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

For the dressing:

  • 2/3 cup buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, mashed to a puree
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut (if unsweetened is unavailable, use 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sweetened shredded coconut)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    1. In a large bowl, combine all the salad ingredients.
    2. In a medium bowl, whisk the buttermilk, lime juice, and olive oil until blended. Whisk in the garlic puree, tarragon, coconut, salt, and pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss.
    3. If you wish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 hour to cool the salad and allow the flavors to meld. Toss again before serving, and serve with a slotted spoon.
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